Table 2. Description of the four phases of the adaptive cycle and the associated changes in the system's descriptive properties: potential for change, connectedness, and resilience (Gunderson and Holling 2002).

Phase Description Potential for change Connectedness Resilience
α (reorganization) - System widely open to reorganization
- Experimentation and initial establishment of actors, organizations and institutions, strongly subjected to evolutionary forces (i.e., competition, failure, survival)
- Loss of resources (e.g., energy, information) is minimized, so that they become available in r phase (legacies)
- Great uncertainty about options for the future and chance for unexpected forms of renewal
Relatively high for future development. Low. Internal regulation and control over external variability is weak. High. Wide stability region and weak regulation around equilibria.
r
(exploitation and rapid growth)
- Innovators perceive unlimited opportunity
- Bases for entrepreneurial and market competition are settled
- External variability remains, favorable to entities more adapted to it (r-strategists)
- Incremental exploitation of available resources and growth
- Actors develop capacity for controlling external variability, hence reinforcing their own expansion
- Future starts to be more predictable
Declines as resources start and continue to be exploited. Still low, but starts to increase, along with stability. Remains high due to the adaptation to high variability.
K
(consolidation and conservation)
- Growth rate slows down
- Reduced opportunity and difficulties for new entrants
- The future seems ever more certain and determined
- Competitive edge shifts to those that control variability (K-strategists)
- Increasing returns from efficiency (e.g., minimizing costs, streamlining operations)
- Organizations become bureaucratized, rigid and internally focused (i.e., blind to external changes)
Becomes high again in terms of stored capital Increases as system becomes highly stable and over-connected in structural and organizational terms, hence more rigid (less flexible). Rapidly declines, i.e., vulnerability to external disturbance starts to increase.
Ω
(release)
- Extreme structural rigidity that may trigger sudden change, collapse and a “creative destruction” phase (Schumpeter 1950)
- Chaotic behavior, uncertainty rules govern
- All of these create the source for reorganization and the systems begin to acquire a new identity
Suddenly declines as previously accumulated resources are abruptly released and exhausted. High, but connections and regulatory controls are suddenly broken. Low, but rapidly increases as the system moves towards the next α phase of reorganization.